Thursday 21 January 2016

#CBR8 Book 3: "Radiance" by Grace Draven

Page count: 297 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Ildiko is a human woman, the less than favoured niece of the Gauri king. To cement an important political alliance she's been promised in marriage to Prince Brishen of Bast-Haradis, a Kai warrior and the younger son to the ruthless ruling couple. Humans and Kai, for all that they share similar anatomical traits are very different, both in looks and cultural values. The Kai have black, unreadable eyes, sharp features, grey skin, long claws and a mouth full of sharp fangs and are considered quite terrifying by the humans. Their eyes are very sensitive to light, so they are nocturnal. The Kai think the pale pink skin of humans reminiscent of the mollusks they use to make a distinctive dye and that their watery, ever-changing eyes are very unnerving, yet Brishen and Ildiko are perfectly prepared to do their duty and marry. They have a brief, but honest chat before the ceremony and decide that they at least like their future partner.

Having never really felt all that welcome with at the Gauri court, Ildiko wants to leave and live with her new husband immediately. While neither of them are considered significant politically, they are just pawns in an alliance, enemies of Bast-Haradis want the treaty with Gauri broken, and try to kill Ildiko and Brishen on their way back to his homeland. At the royal court of Bast-Haradis, Ildiko has to survive the whimsical cruelty of her new mother in law, but all the while, the growing friendship with her new husband helps her adjust to her new life. While they are from very different cultures, Ildiko and Brishen like and respect each other from the very first, and slowly those feelings transform into love and attraction. All they want is to live in peace in Brishen's fortress at the border of Bast-Haradis, but there are forces that want war and there is danger in their future.

Back in October 2012, Grace Draven's Master of Crows was a monthly pick for the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club. I read it and liked it, and when Radiance came out last year and started getting rave reviews and later showed up on a lot of Best of 2015 lists, I was intrigued. I bought the book and then forgot about it, until it was picked as the January pick in Vaginal Fantasy this year. Remembering that my friend Erica had also really liked it and written enthusiastically about it, I was excited to finally pick it up. Despite a very demanding work load for my first week back to school in January, I read this book in every spare moment I could. I liked that despite that while they found each other's appearance pretty abhorrent, Ildiko and Brishen didn't for a moment hesitate to do their duty. They weren't expecting to marry for love and are pleasantly surprised that they like each other and can joke about stuff together. They are rational, sensible adults who have never exactly been favoured by their families and therefore are ready to make a new family of their own.

Immediately after finishing the book, I rated it five stars, because on an emotional level, it absolutely worked for me on every level. I loved both Ildiko and Brishen and their slowly developing romance was such a fun thing to read. However, with a couple of weeks having passed since I read the book, more and more niggles have crept in. For all that I really liked the world building, there are a lot of inconsistencies when it comes to how the two cultures are described and the degree to which the Kai in Brishen's party are disgusted and horrified by humans, when it's later established that they have human neighbours and allies that they've traded with for years. Never a huge fan of the humble potato, I found it really funny that the Kai apparently hated it so vehemently, but if they've been invited to dinners with their human neighbours a bunch of times before, the Gauri wedding feast should not have been the ordeal it was portrayed as.

New Cannonballer Melanir outlined a number of complaints in her Cannonball review earlier this month, and while I agree with pretty much all of them, they didn't in any significant way spoil from my enjoyment of the book (be warned, her review is way more spoilery than mine, don't read it if you haven't actually read the book). The complaints are enough to knock the book down from the coveted 5 star spot though, but not by all that much. I'm not sure I'm thrilled in the direction the series seems to be going, but have hopes that Draven will do something interesting with the sequel and that maybe Brishen's cousin and the human lord next door can get a romance of their own. I'm really glad I started the year with this one, it's certainly one of the better Vaginal Fantasy selections in recent memory.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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